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CSUN Players Close Ranks, Remain Upbeat

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After eight consecutive losses, the Cal State Northridge basketball team has reason to be depressed and divided.

Except for exhibitions, winning is a foreign concept. Northridge has lost 17 of its past 18 games dating to last season.

But while the Matadors, who play at Cal State Fullerton tonight, are desperate for a win, they remain a spirited bunch seemingly more determined than ever to win their first game.

“We are just sick of losing,” team captain Keith Gibbs said after a 66-45 loss to Boise State last Friday.

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Twenty-four hours later, the Matadors were in position to upset 10th-ranked Utah but continued a disturbing pattern of frequent turnovers and cold shooting in the last eight minutes.

Guard James Morris believes that his team’s effort against Utah--except for the final stretch--had a bonding effect.

“Everyone had an eye-opening,” Morris said. “We all realized at the same time that even though we lost the game, we all felt good about it. There weren’t any heads down. People weren’t moping.”

In the locker room after the game, the Northridge players made a pact to upgrade their intensity.

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“We came together basically because we were tired of losing,” Gibbs said. “There are certain things we can do to keep the intensity up. We can’t give up big runs. We can’t blank out like that.”

The informal gathering was for players only.

“The coaches coach us and help us, but we’re the ones playing the game,” Gibbs said. “That’s all we’ve talked about. Basketball means a lot to us and when we lose, it’s not as fun.”

The talk started in the locker room and continued late into the night at the team hotel in Salt Lake City, as well as on the flight back to Los Angeles.

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Sophomore point guard Andre Chevalier, who played for a Cleveland High team that reached the City Section 4-A Division semifinals, is not accustomed to losing, but in his career at Northridge the Matadors are 8-28.

“Most of us guys are from winning programs,” Chevalier said. “Nobody is used to 0-8. We are not as bad a team as our record shows, though. I think the competition in the first eight games has been a lot tougher than it was early last season.

“I think we’re better in a lot of ways than last year, and in other ways we’re suffering. I know we miss Todd (Bowser) in the middle. Percy (Fisher) is good, but you do miss that big, wide body in there.”

Gibbs and Chevalier have talked about taking personal responsibility for the team’s fate. “Someone needs to pick it up either in scoring or on defense,” Gibbs said. “We’ve got to get the first win and the others will come along.”

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Northridge Coach Pete Cassidy has endured six-game losing streaks three times in his 20 seasons at Northridge, but he has never experienced such a winless streak at the start of a season.

Cassidy is encouraged by his team’s unity and its willingness to improve as evidenced by the large number of players who stay to work out after practice.

“That’s why I believe they are still winners,” Cassidy said. “If they were just getting out of here that would be a sign of troubled people. Because you have to have a commitment and a passion to compete.” After playing Fullerton (2-3) tonight and the University of San Diego (5-3) on Sunday, Northridge will return to Matador Gymnasium next Saturday to face Eastern Washington.


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